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Asia Minute: Cambodia’s Prime Minister Demands Longer Title

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Many of this year’s political races are coming into clearer focus. From mayoral contests across the state to the presidential election, there will be competition. But the titles of the office holders are not a point of contention. That’s not true everywhere. HPR’s Bill Dorman explains in today’s Asia Minute.

Here’s a political quiz for a Monday.  When is a Prime Minister NOT a prime minister?  The answer is when that Prime Minister governs Cambodia…in which case he is the “Lord Prime Minister and Supreme Military Commander.”  An alternate translation would be “glorious, supreme prime minister and powerful commander.”

Reporters were called to the Information Ministry in Cambodia late last week and told that starting in August, Prime Minister Hun Sen must be referred to by that longer title—under penalty of law.  Not clear exactly what that penalty would be.

Other officials must also be called by their full titles….so for example the first lady will now be called “Celebrated Senior Scholar.”  Less formal titles have been used for Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for more than three decades.  The Economist calls him a dictator, the Associated Press a “strongman,” and opposition groups label him a criminal—accusing him of crimes against humanity.

The Asia Director of Human Rights Watch says he “has repeatedly used political violence, repression, and corruption to remain in power.”  The BBC says Hun Sen has been “trying to exert more control over media and social media recently, often threatening legal action against his critics.”  The Information Ministry told reporters it’s important “to show respect for Cambodia’s highest leaders.”

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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